HICPA and the Hiccups of Home Repairs

Home repairs and renovations can be costly and time-consuming. While some work on your home can be a breeze to have done, other work comes with the stress of ever-changing deadlines and busted budgets. No one needs the added stress of a contractor who does not complete the work or does not complete it well. That is why Pennsylvania passed the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA) in 2009.

There are two primary litigation scenarios we see invoking HICPA. The first scenario occurs when a contractor completes the work but does not receive full payment from the client. Typically, the client withholds payment because the work was not completed to standards and is awaiting further work, or there is a disagreement over the actual contract price. The second scenario occurs when a client pays a contractor the full contract price, but the contractor does not complete the work as agreed. In both scenarios, it is important to have a written contract evidencing the precise nature of the work, the full price and a proposed completion date. Although litigation under HICPA can go both ways, we must recognize that the purpose of the statute is to protect the consumer from fraudulent business practices.

One protection provided by HICPA comes from its requirement that all contractors in the state be registered with the Bureau of Consumer Protection in the Office of Attorney General. Each registered contractor receives a unique identification number, which is to be printed on all home improvement contracts. Registration can be verified online by consumers using the contractor’s trade name, address, telephone number or registration number. By performing a registration search, homeowners can make sure they are working with legitimate contractors who have provided proof of liability insurance as required by HICPA.

HICPA also protects the consumer by requiring that all home improvement contracts include certain elements for them to be enforceable against a client. It also deems certain clauses voidable, such as any provision stating that the contractor shall be awarded attorney fees or costs if the contract becomes the subject of litigation. In fact, it is the consumer who can recover triple their damages as a result of a contractor’s violation of HICPA since a violation of the statute is deemed a violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, which allows for the recovery of treble damages. This only underlines Pennsylvania’s interest in making sure that consumers are protected from fraudulent business practices by home improvement contractors.

If you find yourself in a legal dispute over a home improvement contract, the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm can help. Contact our office today and schedule a consultation.

When a Contractor Doesn’t Finish the Job

Cornerstone Law Firm offered a legal tip to Redfin on how to handle things when a contractor doesn’t finish a home renovation project.

“If you find yourself in a situation where a contractor has not performed as agreed upon, you have legal remedies. You can first reach out to your state’s Attorney General’s office and file a complaint. The office will investigate the claim and encourage the contractor to remedy the issue if your complaint has merit. If this doesn’t work, you can file a complaint at a local District Court, which can handle judgments up to $12,000 and is designed to be accessible to the public. You can also research other options to take against licensed contractors who don’t honor their contracts. For example, Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act provides strong statutory language against contractors who fail to abide by the requisite legal requirements in entering into and completing home improvement contracts.”

For an extensive overview of ways to deal with unfinished renovations, read the full article here on Redfin’s blog.

 

Construction Litigation

One of the most commonly litigated issues in America is construction. Whether it’s because a construction company failed to do the work that was promised, did the work inadequately, or because of buyer’s remorse that causes a customer to be unhappy with a perfectly good job, construction disputes end up in court about as often as anything else in American law. Experienced construction lawyers will tell you that there are several issues to consider when trying to predict the outcome of a construction case.

Workman-Like Qualityconstruction lawyers

Implied in nearly every construction contract in law, is a requirement that construction be done in a “workman-like manner.” If a contractor or subcontractor shows up to do their job and installs paper mâché plumbing, obviously this would not satisfy the requirements of a contract even if the contract didn’t explicitly say what the plumbing had to be made with. The standard quality requirements of the industry will prevail.

While this may be easy to determine when it comes to paper mâché, it is much harder to determine in instances where a contractor or subcontractor simply isn’t very good at their job. Perhaps they put in cheap materials instead of those ordered, or perhaps they took shortcuts and didn’t get the work done to the standards of the general contractor.

The question that the court will ask is, “What meets the minimum standards of competency in the profession? Did the contractor’s work rise to that level?”

Contract Provisions

In most instances, a dispute with a contractor will be over fulfillment of the terms of a contract. It makes sense, then, to carefully check the contract at the beginning of a job, routinely throughout the job, and of course before the filing of suit. The contract’s provisions will largely set down the rights and obligations of each party. But anyone who’s ever done a construction job knows that things can change quickly.

A homeowner decides they want a different type of flooring throughout the house. A municipal body changes the layout of a building completely. A contractor can’t get the subcontractors originally bargained for. All too often, these become oral conversations. The parties agree that they will do something differently than laid out in the contract, but they don’t memorialize it in writing. Preferably, the parties should execute a Change Order at each stage in the process when things change.

Even without change orders in place, written documents can make it much easier to track the changes that have been made and whether all parties agreed to the changes that were made. A great deal of litigation can be traced back to change orders that weren’t properly executed.

Damages

Finally, even after you’ve worked out all of the other questions in a case, the most important thing that parties heading into construction litigation have to consider are the damages at issue. If a subcontractor didn’t hold up their end of the work, and it caused delays, is the sub on the hook for the cost of the project’s delay? Can that subcontractor be held liable for the expense and costs that a general contractor incurred waiting for that job to be completed by someone else?

We’ve covered damages in other articles on this site from time to time, but it’s sufficient to say that every case is different and that determining the proper measure of damages at the outset of a suit will help you determine whether it’s beneficial to bring a suit at all, and if it is, when it’s appropriate to settle.

Conclusion: You need an experienced construction attorney

The attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm have experience in all sorts of litigation. We’ve handled messy cases, simple cases, and everything in between! Call the attorneys at the Cornerstone Law Firm today to discuss your construction litigation case and let us help you figure out how to proceed.